5711 W. Douglas Ave., Milwaukee
Industry: Private-label probiotics
Stevenson Bellot faced a choice when his job with DuPont Co. was transferred to New York state. His wife, Marianne, had already seen her position eliminated by the company. He could have made the move to Rochester, but instead the duo turned into entrepreneurs.
Almost five years later, the company the Bellots started, Waseen Inc., has moved from the Lincoln Warehouse in Bay View to a 15,000-square-foot building in the Havenwoods area on Milwaukee’s northwest side. The change gives the maker of probiotics roughly five times the space and room to continue growing.
“It couldn’t come at a better time,” said Stevenson, noting even in the few months since making the move, the company has taken on business it didn’t have the capacity for at Lincoln Warehouse.
Waseen makes private label probiotics for agricultural and human use, sourcing different strains of bacteria and making custom blends for customers. For humans, the products are mainly used as supplements. In animals, they are used as feed additives called direct-fed microbials.
“The idea behind most of those is, just like now in humans, to increase gut health and overall immune health and replace antibiotics,” Marianne said.
Other animal products are used to preserve animal feed in silos or for waste treatment.
The Bellots worked together at Pewaukee-based Agtech Products Inc. He worked in production and she worked in the lab and in marketing. The company was acquired in 2008 by Danisco A/S, which was then acquired three years later by DuPont.
The series of acquisitions may have led to Marianne’s job being eliminated and Stevenson’s being transferred to Rochester, but it also created what would become a solid customer base for Waseen.
Agtech did business with a variety of customers, including some with small amounts of business. In some cases, those customers ordered as little as $10,000 worth of product per year; but DuPont didn’t want to do business with anyone doing less than $100,000 per year, Stevenson said.
“We started working with these very small customers and that’s where we found our niche market,” he said. “Eventually, by word-of-mouth, some bigger companies started contacting us. They like what we do and they like the stability of our company, that it’s owned by a husband and wife, that they have no fear at all that we are going to sell.”
Waseen is committed to being a private label manufacturer, while also offering customers flexibility and personal interaction.
“We don’t make our own product to compete with our customers. We don’t believe in that,” Stevenson said. “If we are a private label company, if we are helping customers, our goal is to help them, not to compete with them.”
The Bellots didn’t take a salary for the first year and the goal was just to be able to break even and help the smaller former Agtech customers. The business did well enough in the first year that it needed to expand, going from 2,000 square feet on the third floor of Lincoln Warehouse to 3,000 square feet.
When Waseen needed to grow again, there was no room available, and a third floor location isn’t the most conducive to sending or receiving deliveries. The Bellots found their new home on West Douglas Avenue after the former owner, wholesale bicycle parts distributor Olympic Supply Co., moved to a new facility on North Teutonia Avenue.
The new facility gives Waseen room to have its own laboratories, along with expanded space for production, inventory and offices. The challenge now is to grow into the available room at a manageable pace.
“We are a small company, but very efficient, and to find good employees has become very difficult,” Stevenson said. “We are very careful in picking our lab staff, because we want to make sure that they’re in it for the long term.”
The company took more than a year to make a decision on hiring a manufacturing supervisor and is now in the process of adding a microbiologist. Even with a small company, the Bellots are cognizant of the need to offer benefits to attract employees and also are looking to add team building activities with other area businesses.
“We are trying to make sure our employees are happy, they’re satisfied,” Stevenson said. “We like people that are in it for the long run, people that you can trust, people you can depend on and count on to be reliable.”
“Every hire is really crucial,” Marianne added.